As commander of the only Confederate Navy ship to circumnavigate the globe, Commander James Iredell Waddell made his mark on history. Born in Pittsboro, North Carolina on July 13,1824, Waddell grew up with an early love of the sea. This led him to grow up and become a midshipman in the United States Navy in September of 1841.
Upon his appointment as midshipman, Waddell was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania. After a number of cruises he was successfully accepted at the Naval School at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1847. This school would later become the US Naval Academy with Waddell as one of its illustrious instructors.
Following his appointment to the Naval School, Waddell spent a number of years in the Navy as an officer aboard a number of ships. His last position was aboard the USS Adams which returned from a cruise abroad in early 1862. Faced with the prospect of having to bear arms against friends and family because of the now ensuing American Civil War, Waddell resigned his position in the US Navy.
Being an able naval officer, he soon was discovered by Confederate authorities after Waddell returned to North Carolina. He decided in March of 1862 to join the Confederate Navy with the rank of Lieutenant. In his first position, he was sent to New Orleans to command the CSS Mississippi which was under construction in that city.
This position in command of the CSS Mississippi was to be short lived however as the ship had to be scuttled to prevent her capture with the fall of New Orleans in April of 1862. Following this post, Waddell was stationed in command of shore batteries at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia, and at Charleston, South Carolina. He was successful in both of these positions and soon was given orders to go abroad.
With orders to England, Waddell was given command of the CSS Shenandoah. This ship would become a star of the Confederate Navy in the closing days of the Civil War and would be the only Confederate Navy ship to circumnavigate the globe. As commander of the CSS Shenandoah, Waddell was responsible in 1864 and 1865 for decimating the US merchant and whaling fleet in the Pacific Ocean. Waddell and his crew continued the fight against the US for several months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee because they did not receive confirmed reports of the fall of the Confederate States. Finally on August 2, 1865, he received confirmed notification that the war was over. At this point he disarmed his ship and sailed to Liverpool, England and surrendered his ship and crew to British authorities.
Because Waddell was denied amnesty, that was awarded to other former Confederate officers, he was forced to stay abroad to avoid imprisonment. He then settled in the area of Liverpool. Then in 1875 finally receiving amnesty, he returned to the US to command the merchant steamer SS City of San Francisco. He continued in a number of maritime positions for the rest of his life until his death at Annapolis, Maryland on March 15, 1886.
The legacy of Waddell has been that his actions, along with those of other Confederate Navy officers, have been studied by navies around the world. His actions as commander of CSS Shenandoah were gallant and in the highest traditions of service at sea. Because of these gallant actions he secured a place in history for himself, his crew, and his ship. Later years would prove the success behind his strategy and actions. This can be seen in the fact that the German Kreigsmarine and the US Navy studied Waddell’s story and put the strategy of commerce raiding to work seriously damaging their enemies during the Second World War.
“Commander James Iredell Waddell, Confederate States Navy”, Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center.
“James Iredell Waddell”, North Carolina History Project
“James Iredell Waddell”, The Maritime Heritage Project